High summer and the river’s opalescent blue again, but this year it’s more brilliant than I remember. The boys are already chest-deep in the middle of the slow water. In the old days, the girls would push their flower wreaths into the river with all their dreams for a husband and wait for their lover to catch the circle of flowers before someone else did.
These days, we stand on the pebble beach nursing hard iced teas (illicit), the wet from our bikinis running down to our ankles, watching all those backs and arms out in the river with feigned indifference.
There’s one tanned body missing from the flock of swimming boys. It’s eerie, the absence of Dylan’s voice calling out some profanity over the water.
On the way down, we’d stolen poppies and black-eyed Susans and fireweed and delphinium from the neighbours’ gardens. Now Tess is busy twisting them into crowns, squatting in front of a video tutorial on her phone, the screen’s glow turning the dark brown of her smooth inner calves milky and iridescent.
“He’s here,” Sydney says, her voice catching in her throat. The boys stop flailing. She’s pointing to the opposite bank, an outcropping of dirt. We turn to follow her finger across the river, the boys still as mooring posts. Dylan’s ghost is on the outcropping, standing in his usual surly manner, gangly arms awkward and uncertain.
It’s good of him to come back.
Dylan’s ghost kicks off his Vans and pulls his Slipknot shirt over his head and slides his dark wash jeans down his legs and cannon balls into the river. Tess lets out a small whimper. I clutch my can of iced tea so hard it begins to buckle. The boys retreat out of the water.
It was Tess who’d lost the most when we lost Dylan. A best friend, an almost lover. We watch Dylan’s ghost swimming across the river slowly, the current passing through his body without moving it. Time changes its pace and sunset turns the river into a black mirror that reflects the golden-pink clouds hanging high above it.
Dylan’s ghost turns transparent, the skin on his face illuminated like a nightlight. He reaches the shallows and stands, his whole naked body glowing softly. On the ridge, the streetlights come on, tiny pricks of white against the pastel sky.
Tess kneels down by the edge of the water and pushes her half-finished wreath out into the current. It hesitates on a stone. Then the river takes it. Dylan’s ghost dives after it, his body sliding through the water glistening like a koi caught in a sunbeam chasing the wreath to where the water begins to run fast, just under the suspension bridge.
His light flickers out under the bridge’s shadow, leaving soundlessly as he’d arrived. A single orange poppy’s still upright on Tess’ wreath as it bobs through the rapids in the gathering darkness.